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Old Sep 22 2007, 05:25 AM   #22

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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default Re: DragonDays

Chapter 22 - Facing the Future

As she approached the hatching cavern's broad entrance, Tarrie paused, and quickly pulled a heavy woollen jumper over her head. She'd already ventured out once that morning for a wash and a change of clothes, and it was damn cold outside. It was certainly a far cry from the warm humidity of the cavern, which seemed to have grown even warmer now that Tenneth was also inside, brooding over her own clutch of eggs. Tarrie had seen a glimmer of contented blue-green beneath the queen's lidded eyes as she'd walked past, but Nora had still been fast asleep, and snoring loudly to prove it. Well, she was probably still catching up on her sleep after staying up all night a few days before.

Outside, the floor of the weyrbowl was still dark with the long shadows cast by the encircling mountains, and a thin grey mist hung in the air. It would burn off very quickly once the sun rose a little higher in the sky... Tarrie raised her eyes, and checked the progress of the sunlight sliding slowly down the western side of the Weyr towards the new 'Weyrling' barracks. It was probably a little after eight in the morning, and past time that she got her watch fixed - not that she'd have much time for that today, with Threadfall due before lunch.

Tarrie tucked her hands under her armpits, and trudged carefully towards the main living cavern. It had rained yesterday evening, and a thin layer of ice had formed over the puddles during the night. She'd nearly slipped on a patch earlier, and didn't want to make the same mistake again. Arriving at the entrance, she was greeted by the distinctive aroma of freshly-brewed klah. Now that was what she needed right now! Tarrie followed her nose deeper into the cavern, and found Alianne and Sam standing beside the night hearth.

"I wondered where you two had got to," she said, and suddenly found herself stifling a yawn.

"Surprised you slept in so long," Alianne replied with a smile. "Klah? Looks like you need it as much as we did."

Tarrie thanked her friend, and took the offered mug.

"You didn't eat the last of the sweetrolls, did you Sam?" Alianne asked.

"No, there's still two left. One for Tarrie, one more for me, and the latecomers will have to settle for porridge."

Alianne thumped her husband gently in mock disapproval and sighed. "Greedy-guts."

"I'm excavating our new home today, woman! Don't you think I need sustenance?"

Tarrie couldn't help but smile as they left, arm-in-arm. It was great seeing the couple enjoying each others' company again after the difficult time they'd had when Chereth rose. Of course, their plans also got her thinking - she hadn't decided on a spot for Porth's new weyr yet, let alone arranged time with the stonecutters and a work-crew to start getting all the work done. As she munched on her breakfast, she mentally counted down the days to Porth's eggs hatching... would she have time to get started before then? Probably not, she decided - there was simply too much else to be done right now. Today, that meant taking charge of three of the candidates prior to Threadfall, and teaching them to prepare flamethrowers. They wouldn't be going out with the groundcrews, like some of the more experienced candidates. But instead, once the 'fall was over, Pete would be taking them out to help deal with any burrows, and to familiarise them with live Thread at the same time.

Finishing her sweetroll, Tarrie scanned the busy cavern in search of her three candidates. Hopefully, they'd already be up and breakfasted, but there was a good chance they wouldn't be. The last finishing touches to the Weyrling barracks had been completed late the previous afternoon, ahead of schedule, and the candidates had filled their free evening with a rather drunken celebration. Tarrie didn't begrudge it to them - they'd worked damn hard, after all - but Thread didn't stop falling just because you had a hangover, as much as you might wish it would. Fortunately, the three young women in question were indeed up and awake, chatting sleepily together at a table near the main kitchen.

As a group, they couldn't look more different. All of them were wearing standard-issue work coveralls, but any resemblance between the women began and ended there. Sara Byrne's were the most well-worn; as a trainee dolphineer, she was pretty used wearing them. Dolphineering was much like dragonriding, really - there was a lot of unglamourous work behind the scenes: working on boats, stevedoring on the docks and suchlike. Unlike some of the other candidates, Sara had had no trouble adjusting to the heavy workload they'd been burdened with.

Sita, too, had thrown herself into the work of candidacy, joking that there wasn't a job they could give her that was worse than what she'd already done, and that she was the only one of them that knew what weyrling life would really be like. Tarrie was quietly amused; Sita might have spent a few weeks in close company with dragon excrement, but if she Impressed she'd have the best part of a year of it! Would the young scientist remain so impeccably neat and tidy in the company of a young dragon, especially once they were flying every day? Tarrie had her doubts.

The last girl in the group was Annalise Aughton... and boy, did she know how to accessorise! Her coverall was belted with a bright scarf, with another in coordinating colours covering her long hair. She'd even found time that morning to apply a perfect veneer of make-up! Tarrie wondered if the girl's eyeshadow was one of Pei Pei Ting's new colours. The chemist was continually developing new ranges, supposedly to maintain morale at Fort Hold, and Tarrie had half-heartedly been meaning to acquire some for special occasions for a while now. But really, who was she trying to impress? Only another dragonrider could truly understand, and they all knew each other well enough by now. Porth would always come first. Would any of the three girls waiting for her ever learn what that was like?

Oh, they were all enthusiastic enough, but only time would tell if they were fit to be dragonriders. Annalise had had perhaps the hardest time adjusting to the sometimes heavy labour required from the candidates, and had blistered up horribly on more than one occasion. But she'd borne the pain stoically enough, even turning it to her advantage garnering pity from her many male admirers. No, Tarrie certainly couldn't tell what the new dragons might look for, or if they'd find it in any particular candidate, despite the frequent discussions amongst the dragonriders. They'd find out soon enough, that was for sure.

"Good morning, candidates," Tarrie said as she arrived at the girls table.

The girls quickly rose from their chairs, and eagerly returned the greeting. Tarrie checked that they all had their work gloves with them and were ready to get started, and soon had a short procession following her out into the bowl, towards the small cave where the flamethrowers and spare tanks were stored. Judging by the number of people hurrying about outside, several other workgroups had also got an early start. Tables laden with medical supplies were being laid out in the bowl, in preparation for treating Threadscores and char burns, and a large group were busily bagging firestone over by the storage bunker. Later in the morning, pairs of candidates would be shadowing each dragonrider, helping the riders check straps and feed firestone to the male dragons, or to load up the tanks of nitric acid onto the golds. Once Threadfall began, everyone who was already proficient with a flamethrower would be joining the groundcrews, except for those like Betsy who were far more valuable for their other skills.

The flamethrower cave was really little more than a deep rocky overhang with one brick wall, stacked from floor to roof with various bits of equipment. The waiting trolley was already half loaded, but it was hard to tell at a glance whether it was in the process of being readied for Threadfall, or if someone had just not finished putting everything away after the last one. With the help of the three girls, Tarrie quickly filled it with wands, tanks, control units and all the other component parts of the flamethrowers; enough for each of the queenriders who'd be fighting Thread, and several more to spare. The plan was that the girls would service the 'throwers under Tarrie's supervision, and once Threadfall was over, they'd get the chance to use the spares to help destroy any new burrows.

It was hard work hauling the trolley out towards the open patch of ground beside the drainage sump, but at least it helped make the cold air seem more bearable. As usual, Tarrie began with the tanks. She grabbed the nearest one with both hands, twisted it round, and lent it against the trolley for the three girls to see.

"Tanks first, because they're heaviest," Tarrie began. "You always have to make sure they're upright before you check the levels." She pointed out the relevant gauge, and gestured for the girls to take a closer look.

"It looks the same as the cryo gas in the labs," Sita said.

"And my diving tanks," Sara agreed.

Tarrie nodded. "Tanks are tanks. Except for size, there's really not much difference." The different valves were the next things to check; Tarrie pulled on a pair of gloves and demonstrated how the valves worked. It was very important to check that they were working smoothly; between did rather unpleasant things to metal joints, and you could often find the different parts expanding or contracting in unexpected ways. There was really nothing worse than having Thread falling right at you, toggling your flamethrower and having nothing come out - just because something was vacuum-welded that shouldn't be. Tarrie grinned; the three girls had looked quite horrified at the thought. The riders had had one or two problems like that in the early days, but thankfully, the old spacefarers of the colony knew more than a thing or two about using technology in a vacuum, and solutions were soon found. Not that between was really a vacuum at all, but there were one or two aspects of it that were close enough as made no difference.

Happy that they knew what they were doing, Tarrie stepped back and watched the candidates slowly check each of the tanks. As she'd expected, a few of them were only partially full - they'd do for checking burrows, but not for fighting a full Threadfall. Those tanks were moved to one side, separate from the rest, but they could really do with being marked. She reached into her pockets and felt around, looking for the small piece of chalk she remembered picking up the week before. Ah, there it was. Tarrie passed it over to Annalise, and the young woman quickly knelt down to draw an 'X' on the five half-empty tanks.

Flushing and drying the wands was the next job on the list. That was followed by careful oiling of all the connecting joints - valves weren't the only things that could get stuck in place. The last part of the flamethrowers to check were the control units, which were each hooked up in turn to the test sprayer. If everything was functioning properly, they'd give the perfect mix of fuel and accelerant - or in the case of the test sprayer, a jet of water dyed a very particular shade of lurid green!

With the control units all passing the test, the only thing left to do was to assemble each of the individual flamethrowers together. It was a long job, and took longer than all the earlier checks combined. By the time the last one had been put together to Tarrie's satisfaction - and she'd made the girls strip down a flamethrower and start from scratch four times along the way - preparations for Threadfall were almost complete. Tarrie glanced at the sun; they had perhaps ten minutes before the first of the other queenriders appeared, which was time enough to grab a quick drink.

"Good work, girls," Tarrie said with a wide smile. For novices, they'd done a pretty impressive job, and rightfully seemed quite pleased with their achievements. "Time for a drink, I think."

Back in the main cavern, Tarrie found a jug of fruit juice, and a chair near the entrance. It still seemed like quite a novelty not getting ready to fight, even after several months that way. One by one, the dragons assembled in the bowl, and were laden with either flamethrower tanks or bags of firestone. Fairs of the tiny dragonets flitted here and there, pausing to chew firestone and belch tiny flames every now and then. The riders mounted, the dragons shared their usual silent conversations, and Sean craned his neck in all directions to check the orderliness of his five Wings. And then the signal was given, powerful hind legs launched the dragons skywards, and the first downstroke carried them higher into the sky. Ten wingbeats later, they were gone.

Tarrie took her used mug back to the kitchen, and walked back out into the bowl. She might not be fighting today, but there was still work to be done. Today, she'd be helping Sorka alongside the healers. Tarrie briefly touched Porth's mind, to check if the dragon was listening in on the progress of the Threadfall. But the dragon was half asleep, her mind focused on her eggs. No matter; Faranth would be keeping Sorka informed as usual. Hopefully, there wouldn't be many injuries today. Most thread injuries were minor, and would get treated at the end of the Fall. The dragons had a high pain threshold, and a strong natural desire to fight Thread. If they could keep fighting, they invariably would, which was a good thing indeed. With the pregnant queens forbidden from fighting unless absolutely necessary, they really couldn't spare any of the dragons in the air.

"How does it fall today?" Tarrie asked Sorka quietly.

Sorka looked skywards, and sighed. "Evenly now, but there's a nasty front building over the mountain range."

Tarrie nodded grimly. This could be a tricky Threadfall. The air currents were awkward to predict over certain parts of the mountains, and depending on how the weather front had developed over the morning and what the jet stream was doing, things might change for the worse before the end of the 'fall. That was always the worst type of scenario. Fighting Thread was a timeless task, and it was too easy to lose track of where you were, or to get lulled into a false sense of security. Well, if it did turn out to be a bad 'fall, at least the candidates had already seen an easy one earlier in the week.

Four of the candidates had joined the healers that day, either to gain new experiences or to put their knowledge into practise. Betsy Patrick, Claire Lensdale and Jamie Duff already had varying amounts of medical training, but it was apparently all new to Lucas Trury. As the first hour of the 'fall passed uneventfully, Betsy and Jamie graphically described some of the possible wounds and injuries he might see treated, and quizzed him on his knowledge of dragon anatomy. Jamie's blue dragonet was a willing assistant, stretching out his wings whenever his friend wanted a different body-part named.

By the time the second hour of Threadfall was halfway through, the candidates had got a bit more relaxed, and Sorka and Tarrie had become considerably more tense. Thread had almost finished falling on the cultivated land west of Fort Hold, and would soon be falling above the snowline where any burrows could do no damage. But it was falling awkwardly, according to Faranth, and the dragons and riders were getting tired.

Mere moments after Sorka had conveyed Faranth's news, a brown dragon burst out of between above the Weyr, screaming.

The sound sent chills down Tarrie's spine, and she instinctively reached out towards Porth for comfort. How badly was he hurt?

It's Madrath, Porth said. I do not know what happened, but he's been badly scored.

"Madrath," Sorka echoed, "Faranth, help him!"

The gold queen launched herself from her spot on the Weyr's heights, and gently used her greater size to ease the brown dragon's glide towards the ground. The healers gathered bandages, numbweed, stepladders, swabs and threaded needles, and rushed towards the descending dragons, Sorka following as fast as she could. Tarrie slowed down to keep pace with her.

"Porth says it's bad."

Sorka nodded. "Overconfidence and acrobatics, Carenath says. They flamed one clump, and promptly backwinged into another."

Tarrie winced. "Wingtips, whole sails, or their backs?"

"Some of each, I think." She broke off, and whistled through her teeth as Madrath landed, dropping his wings to the ground. Black flakes of frozen Thread were falling from all over them, revealing a tracery of greenish ichor beneath. The pair must have held themselves between long enough to kill all the Thread they'd entangled themselves with, and they must have jumped fast as well! But it was a big injury, and the cold of between could only damp down the pain for so long.

As Mike slid down from his dragon's neck, Tarrie reached out to Porth. What one queen could do, two could do better.

Help Madrath with the pain if you can, Porth.

We do, Faranth and I. He hurts a lot, but we distract him, and keep his thoughts close to his rider.

Sorka directed Lucas and Betsy to start helping the healers sponge Madrath's wings with numbweed, and walked round behind the dragon's trailing edge to take a closer look at his back, Claire and Jamie following. Tarrie's eyes were on Mike as she wielded her mop; the man was standing by his dragon's head, quietly muttering so fast he was barely pausing for breath. He was unharmed, it seemed, and Tarrie could see the guilt on his face.

"I need swabs and the stepladder," Sorka called out suddenly.

Tarrie whirled round, in time to see Claire make a dash for the edge of the group to vomit. Lucas paused uncertainly, not sure whether to keep slathering numbweed on Madrath's wings, or to follow Sorka's instructions himself. Tarrie shook her head at him. "No, Jonas is already on it. Just keep on with that; you're doing a great job."

She looked back round to check on Claire. The tall woman was drying her face with a look of grim determination, and visibly shaking. Tarrie felt for her; sometimes the sight of Threadscores could be too much for even the strongest stomachs. She called out for a new bucket of numbweed, and moved on to the next score. They were extensive, but thankfully not too deep, and most were easily dealt with. Soon, Madrath's wings had been fully cleaned and numbed, and the dragon's eyes were whirling with a lot less violence. There were a few tears which needed stitching, but none were immediately urgent.

Clambering down her steps, Tarrie walked round the brown's outstretched wings to check how things were going at the other end. Sorka was sitting on an upturned crate beside a pile of soaked bandages, while Claire worked on Madrath.

"How is he?" Tarrie asked.

"Lucky. A hand to the left, and the deepest score would have cut the dorsal artery. We've got the bleeding stopped now, and the muscle damage isn't so bad he'll lose wing function." Sorka sighed. "Just the stitching left to do, but I can't get close enough to do it properly."

Tarrie smiled. `"You've got a good excuse. Claire didn't look comfortable earlier... I take it she's okay now?"

"Neater stiches than mine, according to Jamie. I think she'll do fine, you know, once she gets used to it. How were your crew with the flamethrowers?"

"Better than I hoped." Tarrie placed her hands on her hips, and stretched out her aching back. She suddenly realised that the bowl was filling up with dragons once again, that the 'fall was over. Well... almost. There was Pete, dashing past Madrath towards the spare flamethrowers, with the three girls in tow.

Gilgath tells me there are six burrows they need to eradicate, Porth said as Tarrie watched them pass. He asks me if your candidates are up to it.

Of course they are. I'm sure they'll do well.

The last of the healers stepped away from Madrath, and the brown dragon carefully lifted himself to his feet. His wounds treated, he began the slow walk towards the Weyr's infirmary cave, Mike resting a hand on one of his forelegs as they walked. Tarrie began to help clear up the used bandages, and watched the three girls load up their equipment onto Gilgath out of the corner of her eye.

Yes, they'd done well today, and they'd do well in the future as dragonriders, if that was what fate had in store for them. Today, all of the candidates had faced the worst of things.

And if that hadn't put them off, well, she was pretty sure that nothing would.

Last edited by Kath; Sep 23 2007 at 06:03 PM.
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